Abominable Snowman 2.0

In a previous entry, Sue set up an equation "Media + Digital + More = TransLiteracy" and wondered how to fill in the "more".
Well, a fascinating piece of ephemera2.0 just floated up on to several of my feed readers. It concerns Forteana and folksonomy. Briefly, Charles Fort was a writer who was interested in collecting accounts of anomalous phenomena that appeared to contradict scientific orthodoxy. In a blog entry on Paranormal Mechanisms, the author draws a parallel between folksonomic datasets – "vernacular information architecture" – and "curiosity cabinets."

In essence, the folksonomy seems to be a return to curiosity cabinets of the 16th century. Housing all manner of marvelous bric-a-brac including: plants, fossils, minerals, medicinal items, unicorn horns, shells, stones, etc., these cabinets offered a glimpse of the world. Representational short-hand, accumulated in accordance with any one collector's means. In this primordial phase of the modern museum, collections were often ordered up in constellations of corresponding visual characteristics.

I find the analogy rather appealing on multiple levels. On one level it foregrounds the idiosyncratic, vernacular nature of folksonomy. On another level it hints at some of the representational power of folksonomy. On a third level it hints towards the potential for folksonomy to trouble standard knowledge categories.
Smalfut.jpgThe author started his investigation with a fascinating essay on "Paranormal Mechanism 2.0." The crux of that was a brief account of how a series of coincidences and miscommunications 'created' the abominable snowman. The author writes:

I'm a big fan of technological accidents and malfunctions with audio-visual media because it's at these junctures: a vinyl scratch, a digital glitch, electronic noise overcoming the signal –that the hidden potential of the machine at hand is revealed— these glimpses, ruptures breaks from official taxonomic structures open up possibility spaces for new kinds of crypto-techno-zoological goings on.

The clear implication here is that web2.0 with its complex web of people-to-people interactions is likely to generate similar instances of noise and that folksonomy may end up creating Bigfoot2.0. I think that understanding this may be one of the elements in the "more" of transliteracy. One of my favourite novels is Neil Gaiman's American Gods. The book takes off from folklorist Richard Dorson's analysis of how immigrant folklore was becoming North American folklore. We've recently been discussing digital immigrants and digital natives. Perhaps transliteracy is also going to be a key element in understanding vernacular culture2.0 (aka Folklore).
This doesn't mean that we're going to get some sort of Virtual Bigfoot but that the same processes of imagination, miscommunication and vernacular theorising are likely to be transliterated. Jan Harold Brunvand, the scholar who first popularised the term "urban legend" believes that the Internet has "killed" the urban legend. ("The Vanishing 'Urban Legend'." Midwestern Folklore 30.2 (2004): 5-20.) By that he means that the form which was circulating in oral tradition has been supplanted by a form that circulates via the Net and which is, in many ways, radically different from its antecedent. Understanding this relationship, it seems to me, is part of what falls within the "more" of transliteracy.

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5 thoughts on “Abominable Snowman 2.0

  1. I like this idea very much. The notion that folksonomy ‘noise’ can create new entities makes sense. It’s another example of the imagined moving into the real. Further, some people deliberately manipulate the process – viral advertising being one example, perhaps?

  2. It kind of makes me think of Sue’s recent stone soup post too, the notion of making a ‘thing’ from a seemingly disconnected set of objects/ideas/tags/vegetables.
    As an idea of folklore, it obviously has a long history and plays out in a lot of horror fiction, I’m thinking of ‘It’ by Stephen King, perhaps his best book, which uses a dense set of histories to create a monster.
    What I enjoyed most about this post though, was a bit of confusion I had at the beginning –
    Charles Fort was a writer who was interested in collecting accounts of anomalous phenomena that appeared to contradict scientific orthodoxy. In a blog entry on Paranormal Mechanisms, the author draws a parallel between folksonomic datasets…
    I thought you were referring to a blog by Charles Fort! How Fortean would that be?! I can picture Charles Fort in some celestial cybercafe, surrounded by dodos, pelted by raining frogs and fish, busily typing his Blog of the Damned. Fort 2.0 would perhaps be a good new term to describe entities evoked or created through tagging etc.!

  3. Gareth: there’s a thought. I could have been responsible for starting Fort2.0. In fact, if no one’s Fort2.0 already, somebody ought to be Fort. Perhaps we should set up a Fort Experiment. L. Ron Hubbard’s still writing and a “new Tolkien novel” is due soon.
    Seriously, problems in deixis aside, I like the idea of the Blog of the Damned though, given web2.0, I suspect it would be rather large. You’re right to make a link to Sue’s invocation of the steaming, fecund swamp. Who knows what we’re creating in the intercises of the web with rogue tags, random links and so on.

  4. Lived Experience and Folksonomy

    I recently blogged about Bigfoot2.0 (size 15 feet?) and the concept of noise in folksonomy. It was based on a rather wonderful blog about Forteana. The point I was aiming at was that web2.0 is probably as full of the…

  5. Lived Experience and Folksonomy

    The following is cross-posted from Transliteracy.com. I recently blogged about Bigfoot2.0 (size 15 feet?) and the concept of noise in folksonomy. It was based on a rather wonderful blog about Forteana. The point I was aiming at was that web2.0…

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